LONDON - Kiwi teenager David Vaealiki never imagined he would be playing in the rugby league World Cup this week until he picked up a newspaper in Sydney to see his name among the New Zealand squad.

Parramatta centre Vaealiki makes his debut for New Zealand against the Cook Islands at Reading this morning, and says it is a dream come true.

"No one told me I had been selected for the World Cup. But I had been reading the papers that week because I was interested to see the team.

"It was a thrill to be acknowledged and I was lucky to get selected. It's always been a dream to represent New Zealand and I feel really privileged to get a game against the Cook Islands."

The former Linwood High School student was first noticed by Kiwi coach Frank Endacott three years ago when he earned a scholarship with the Warriors.

Endacott helped Vaealiki, who celebrates his 20th birthday on November 13, to get a contract with Parramatta.

Vaealiki said he wanted to be proud of his performance against the Cooks, especially after his team-mates set a high benchmark in the 64-0 win over Lebanon.

Vaealiki also gets a chance to push Willie Talau or Tonie Carroll out of a place in the starting line-up for the final pool game, against Wales at Cardiff on Monday.

Vaealiki, who could also cover for skipper Richie Barnett at fullback, turned into a tryscoring machine for the Eels when he found a new home in the centre position this year.

As one of the in-form NRL players, he deserves his first Kiwi test at Reading alongside experienced Richie Blackmore.

"I'll get nervous before the match because it's my first cap, but I'll treat it just like another game," he said. "I know my family will be home in Christchurch hearing the game. My mum does not like watching football, she's a bit scared, but the family, they love it."

The other new cap is Warriors' second-rower Ali Lauiti'iti, who finally gets his chance to play for New Zealand.

The 21-year-old toured with the Kiwis to Britain two years ago, but never got a game. He was picked to play against Australia in April, but missed the Anzac test through suspension.

Melbourne five-eighths Tasesa Lavea, aged 20, will be given the goalkicking duties at Reading with Henry Paul missing the game through injury and Stacey Jones on the bench.

Endacott is giving Lavea, Lauiti'iti and Vaealiki the opportunity to be blooded on this trip to gain experience for future Kiwi tours

New Zealand: Richie Barnett (capt), Lesley Vainikolo, Richie Blackmore, David Vaealiki, Nigel Vagana, Tasesa Lavea, Robbie Paul, Nathan Cayless, Richard Swain, Joe Vagana, Ali Lauiti'iti, Tony Puletua, Ruben Wiki.

Res: Stacey Jones, Stephen Kearney, Quentin Pongia, Craig Smith.

- NZPA